For nearly two decades, Chris Mumma has served as the Executive Director of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence, having represented 8 exonorees and fighting for a half a dozen more still behind bars. During her impressive tenure, she has forced legislation on multiple issues regarding wrongful convictions and established the only innocence inquiry commission in the United States. Instrumental in fighting for criminal justice reform in North Carolina, Mumma has spearheaded legislation on eyewitness identification, the recording of interrogations, preservation of biological evidence, and enhanced support for exonerees. On the latest installment of Open Mike, Mumma recounts her most troubling case to date, highlights the Center’s upcoming initiatives, and reflects on the future of American criminal justice reform.

Show Notes

[00:21] Chris Mumma’s background as Executive Director of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence.

[01:15] Welcome to the show, Chris! Could you tell our viewers how you got started in the fight for justice for the wrongfully convicted?

[02:20] You’ve had quite the career! Over the years, you’ve identified several reoccurring problems that are consistent in wrongful convictions. Let’s start with eyewitness identification… I read that you’ve been able to create some new legislation in North Carolina that I’d love to hear about.

[03:31] Misidentification is a first step that leads down wrong paths. It’s a beginning factor that can lead to false confessions, tunnel vision, and faulty forensics — it branches out into other causation issues. We’re also implicitly more comfortable identifying the features of those who bear our racial and genetic similarities.

[05:01] When you talk about changes made to lineup identification… what is the difference between sequential and simultaneous identification?

[06:54] Do you know how many other states have also made these changes? North Carolina was the first, you said?

[08:03] Was lineup identification the only aspect of witness identification that was reformed?

[08:44] It’s so interesting — every time I do an episode, I probably say this — wrongful convictions are so similar. Wrongful convictions follow a playbook.

[09:41] We’re so accustomed to being recorded everywhere… the ATM, walking down the street, grocery stores… yet many law enforcement offices don’t record what happens behind their closed doors. How can this be, especially when dealing with matters that affect someone’s life?

[09:51] Are they recording lineups now?

[11:34] I know you’ve been instrumental in getting some laws regarding preservation of biological evidence passed in North Carolina… What were the existing procedures, and how were you able to get them to change?

[13:35] The one case that really combines all of these elements we’re discussing is the Willie Grimes case. All exonerations are tragic… this one in particular is extremely hard to read about — the mistreatment, the corruption, the fraud. I’d love for you to set it up for our audience.

[15:01] The book Ghost of an Innocent Man covers Grimes’s ordeal in detail.

[19:01] Isn’t this the case where the victim falsely identified the defense attorney in court as her assailant?

[19:50] In most wrongful conviction cases, an awful defense attorney is involved. Can you tell me about his attorney at trial?

[23:41] In a rape there’s a lot of biological evidence… was there any testing conducted in the rape kit in this case?

[27:43] Was the fingerprint evidence at the scene of the crime actually used in the trial?

[28:55] This inquiry commission to search law enforcement’s files was very innovative. How did they get involved and accomplish this?

[31:33] Of the 22 cases investigated by the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, there was evidence reported as being destroyed or lost in 11 cases.

[33:26] Is the Innocence Inquiry Commission run by the state?

[33:49] Are there conviction integrity units in your jurisdiction?

[37:05] How many cases are you working on? And I’m curious about your impression… how many people in North Carolina do you think are wrongfully behind bars right now?

[38:28] A lot of the people I’ve interviewed and files I’ve read are about older cases… Do you think with the changes that are being made that things are getting better with the wrongful conviction crisis?

[39:52] Most wrongful convictions the culture discusses are about felonies, but wrongful misdemeanor convictions are exponentially higher.

[40:48] Until we have a culture shift at the top — with law enforcement and prosecutors — progress won’t accelerate the way we need it to.

[42:02] Keep up the great work and all the wonderful things you’re accomplishing. Christina Mumma, thank you for being on the show and helping to educate the public that wrongful convictions are real, and prevalent, and everywhere. Thank you for being on the show.

[42:45] Going down this path of wrongful convictions, I can’t believe this is still happening. It’s mind-blowing that Chris even has 135 cases to work on. If you know someone is sitting in prison for a crime they didn’t commit, step up. Find the courage and tell someone in law enforcement or at a prosecutor’s office. What is worse than sitting in prison for a crime you didn’t commit? Thank you for watching — make sure to like, share, subscribe, and comment. We have our 100th episode coming up soon, and you won’t want to miss it! Thank you and take care.

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